Art of Darkness

Join No-Neck Blues Band in burrowing into the depths of evil

"What I like about No-Neck Blues Band is that we are all trying to embrace all the aspects of life: the good, the evil, the light, the dark," Dave Nuss explains via cell phone from New York. "We try to have all this stuff hanging in the balance."

Later that day, I ring Keith Connelly, another member of the approximately 12-year-old septet known as No-Neck Blues Band (or just NNCK). With startling consistency, Connelly picks up Nuss' line of conversation and carries it a step further.

"You can use us, our music, as a transition or as a vehicle to be in that state of mind," Connelly says. "When people are into it, I feel like we do share some of the same experience."

A few years back, I briefly shared "that state of mind" -- hyperaware of "the good, the evil, the light, the dark" -- when one of NNCK's improvised, meditative jams, a fusion of psychedelic noise and experimental- and ethnic-flavored folk, left my speakers and transmitted from the group to me what this tightly knit outfit experienced when creating these sounds. Even more extraordinary was the synchronicity. The name of the track was "Assignment Subud," and as it played, I actually read in Colin Wilson's massive tome The Occult this very sentence, "This section of Gurdjieff would not be complete without some mention of Subud." Subud is a modern spiritual practice emphasizing humanity's attainment of vital forces through a direct link with the rhythmic flow of the universe.

Soon, I started researching all of NNCK's song and album titles for further synchronicities and hidden meanings, and I now believe that the enigmatic members of NNCK, who are rarely interviewed and who self-release most of their records in ultralimited quantities, are leaving behind a trail of clues for fans to follow. And with NNCK dropping Qvaris, a more widely distributed release put out by the indie imprint 5RC, that trail leads straight into darkness.

"Qvaris is the densest referencing job we've done yet," Connelly divulges, always careful not to tip his hand completely. "It's referencing a sort of invented mythology," heavily inspired by the late-19th- and early-20th-century fantasy and horror of H.P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, and Arthur Machen -- authors who "attempt to describe this kind of other world beyond the veil."

The opening piece, a brooding, almost funereal Celtic groove titled "The Doon," alludes specifically to Lord Dunsany, who used that title to mean "The End." So maybe the invented mythology of Qvaris begins at death (the end) and with each successive track ventures "beyond the veil" into netherworlds of squealing electric instrumentation, crying atmospherics, and agitated free-rock rhythms -- sounds that are far, far removed from the pastoral ray of light that is "Assignment Subud."

"When we listened back to these recordings," Nuss says, "there was an aspect to it that just felt darker."

Definitely.

Tracks such as "Qvaris Theme" and "Qvaris Theme (Loplop Hearing Qvaris)" are pure electronic creep, while the 11-minute "The Caterpillar Heart" is shattered Celtic drone, which eventually dissolves into the nervous chatter of violently bowed strings, kitchen utensil percussion, and a melancholic synthesizer.

Yet, for reasons still to be decoded, the second-to-last piece, "Lugnagall," stands apart from this "darker" vibe. It feels almost celebratory with its sheets of wavering, Doors-flavored organ, a crisp strum of a clean electric axe, boisterous male and female voices, and propulsive rock rhythms that become sturdier as the jam progresses.

According to my research, "Lugnagall" appears in the W.B. Yeats story "The Curse of the Fires and of the Shadows" (more darkness and death), and it translates as "the stranger's leap." To date, this is the most poignant allusion I've discovered on Qvaris. It captures perfectly the experience that NNCK has quietly offered to its listeners over the past decade.

The listener, the stranger, can take that leap into NNCK's world and follow the winding trail of clues until he possesses a core knowledge of literature and history, which will enable both listener and musician the possibility of intimately sharing one and the same experience. And that's precisely what NNCK strives to achieve without ever forcing the issue -- a tangible unity with an audience that is dedicated to really listening. As Connelly tells me, "If you choose to be there as a listener, then it's all right there for you to sense."

 
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